You know how sometimes you get that piece of fat on a steak or a porkchop? I loved that. Marrow's prolly pretty fatty. That's also delicious. And duck skin...Yeah, fat's a flavor and that flavor is "mmmmm..."
A paper published early this month by Australian researchers in a special edition of the journal Flavour highlights recent breakthroughs in our understanding of fat as a taste. Citing dozens of studies, it describes what is understood about the chemical and electrical pathway between fat in the food we eat and our brains.
Although taste has been studied and contemplated since the time of Aristotle, there's no textbook definition of what makes a taste. In science, "taste" is the perception of certain chemicals on the tongue, while "flavor" is the combined experience of taste and smell. Fat definitely induces responses based on its smell and texture, but over the past decade, evidence has been mounting that it may also have a taste component.
Mattes pointed me to one practical reason for understanding whether fat is a taste. "Fat replacers," products used to mimic fat in food to reduce calorie count, are designed based on texture. If there is a taste component, it likely isn't being captured, which could explain why products with fake fat don't taste as good. (No, fat-free half and half is not as good as the real thing.)
Join us next time for a discussion on how enjoyable it is to eat gristle. Gotta love that crunch.